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By Nducu wa Ngugi

Friday, March 14, 2014.

Juma walked gingerly to the bus stop.  He had made the two-mile walk from Gitithia to Limuru in record time and the beads of sweat now flowing down the sides of his face like an artist’s pencil bore testament to the arduous journey.  He wiped his brow with the back of his hand which he then quickly dried by rubbing it against his corduroy pants.  He felt the wet coolness of his sweat on the collar of his shirt draping his neck but it did not seem to help matters.  His shirt, now sticking to his back clung on to him and he felt sick to his stomach.  He could turn around and walk back home but he had to go see her. It had been two days since she had left him what sounded like an urgent message on his phone.

It was mid-morning and the callous Limuru sun had not even begun to bear her rays.  It had been a dry season for a long time-longer than anyone remembered but that had been the trend.  The pact, signed by the seasons, a long time ago had been broken. Thus the rains kept their distance while sun came out to play. 

“Hey muthuri uyu, are we going, some time to day?” asked an impatient bus conductor. Juma looked up to see him and then turned around to see this old man who was delaying the departure.  There was no one.  It was him and he quickly clambered up and hopped on the bus.

“Give the old man a seat!” the conductor, a young man with huge muscles glistening with beads of perspiration shouted again to no one in particular.  In fact the bus was not even half full.  He smiled at Juma as he walked by and then turned back to the door, leaning his body so far out he looked like he was flying as he scanned the bus stop for more passengers.

“I am not an old man” Juma muttered, as he sat down behind the driver.  But in that moment of self- doubt he examined himself, looking at the palms of his hand and then the back, where veins and capillaries crisscrossed with no discernible plan.   He had big hands, ones that had seen hard work and their share of tender moments-especially with Zainabu.

Juma was a carpenter.  He did not make much money but whatever he made he made with love and an eye for perfection.  Like the time his friend, Mrs. Beke, brought him an old dilapidated wooden chair she wanted repaired.  He had asked her to let him make another one but she had insisted on its sentimental value; it was the first chair she and her husband, Beke had bought together from him when they first got married.  Juma admired the young couple and when they had their first child, he was the first to visit with them and they remained close ever since.

That is why he did not understand why Mrs. Beke would want the chair repaired-something that reminded her of her husband had left her and his two children for another woman, three or four years ago.

“You are the only one who can repair this.” She said without bitterness. “I want it the way it was in the beginning so I can close….”

He did not seem to hear her as he gazed at the chair and then said, almost to himself.  “I remember this chair very well.”  His fingers traced the dried and cracked contours of the chair, as if caressing it back to life.

A week later she came to pick it up.  He had meticulously chiseled, planed, vanished and polished it to a sheen that left her breathless.  They had talked for a little bit and then she left. 

Juma did not wait for long for the bus to start him on his journey and before too long he was walking up a small dirt path towards Zainabu’s house. 

At the top of the hill just before entering the compound, he stopped to catch his breath.  He looked around the small farm.  There was something different.  Ah, yes, the lush green of healthy corn, potatoes, and grass fields where two cows mooed in sated glee as they oozed milk from their huge udders.  He wiped his itchy eyes with the back of his hand and continued to look around him. 

In the distance he could see the Ngong forest.  To his right, the hills of Banana waved across the skyline.  The air, a mixture of pine, gum and wattle trees reminded him of his woodshop. 

“Ahem!  Are you just going to sit there old man?”  It was Zainabu. 

He quickly got up to his feet and went to meet her.  She wore a long red dress and a black shawl draped over her shoulders.  Her hair, cropped up into an afro, made her face look smaller and her smile enigmatic.

“Yes, how are you?  I came as quickly as I could,” he said.

She smiled and begun to walk back to the house.

Once inside she sat down on the sofa and beckoned him to sit next to him.  He did not understand. She had never invited him to her house-ever.  She always came to him.  He had asked her why so many times but he never got an answer.

He knew he loved her.  He also knew that she gave him whatever and whenever she could of herself but not the commitment he would have wanted.  Over time, it was good enough for him. 

“So what is it my love?” he asked, voice tender and shaky.

She placed her hands into his and said, “If you want me now, I can be yours.” 

He looked at her to see if she was serious.  Her disarming smile cut through him and he felt light-headed.  What was this world coming to?  He started to smile but his parched lips did not let him.  He wanted to say how happy he was but no words came. He wished he had brought something to give her, something that would speak to her the way he wanted to but could not.  He started to shake.  He lifted his hands hoping words would follow his gestures-nothing.

“Juma.  Don’t you love me?  I thought this is what you always wanted.”

His mind screamed Yes! But his lips refused to move.  He held his head in his hands and let out a muffled sound.

She started to cry, walked out and ran to the bedroom and locked the door behind her.

When he opened his eyes, he tried to call after her but he had no voice.  And then he saw it-the chair her had just repaired for Mrs. Beke.  

“He left me.” She said.  He had not heard her come back into the room. 

“You and Beke?” he asked incredulously.

He stood up quietly and walked to the door and let himself out, retraced his steps back down the hill, leaving the greenery behind him. 

Before long he was back at his shop, his hands sweaty and aching from his wood saw.  He looked up and saw Beke walking hurriedly home before the looming rains fell.

He had not seen him in a while.  It now made sense.  She had sent the chair to him to close a chapter of her life and he was running back home to open a new one for himself and family.

@NducuWaNgugi

Nducu wa Ngugi has a B.A. in Black Studies from Oberlin College, a M.Ed. and an Ed.S in Teacher Leadership from Mercer University. His commentaries on social issues have appeared in the Guardian, The Daily Nation (DN2 Kenya), and The Business Daily Africa, Pambazuka News, Wajibu, PalaPala, Education News and other online journals. His short story, Justine, appeared in the St. Petersburg Review, Issue 4/5 (2012.)  The Pain, another short story, appeared in translation in Karavan, a Swedish magazine.  His first novel, City Murders, is slated for publication by the East African Educational Publishers (2014).  Nducu, a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society lives in Long Island, New York ,with his wife and daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

At Season’s End: A Short Story by Nducu wa Ngugi

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